Acting regionally but with the broader electoral map in mind

Shane Jones. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Shane Jones. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Back in November 2019, two weary years after he became the minister for regional economic development, Shane Jones came to Dunedin and dished out $60 million of tax payers’ money on a variety of projects.

To say the least, his visit was long-awaited; Otago had up to that point received very little of the money the then Jacinda Ardern-led Labour government had been dishing out to the provinces via the growth fund overseen by the New Zealand First list MP and his Labour Cabinet colleagues.

They backed some winners that day too: the Centre for Digital Excellence has been a raging success and a model for similar programmes throughout the country.

The revamped KiwiRail Hillside workshops are soon to reopen for business and they may yet prove to have been a wise investment.

Just don’t ask what happened to the waterfront revival plan and its snazzy bridge.

Soon after, Mr Jones and New Zealand First were dispatched from Parliament, and seemingly into oblivion ... but such a careless expectation paid no heed to the remarkable survival instincts of Winston Peters, who not only hauled his party back into the House in the 2022 election but also on to the Treasury benches.

Now Peters loyalists such as Mr Jones and Lawrence list MP Mark Patterson have been rewarded for keeping the faith and have ministerial portfolios ... and Mr Jones was back in town this week as the minister for regional development looking for things to fund through his yet to be signed and sealed Fast Track Approvals Bill.

Back in 2019 Mr Jones, genuinely, apologised to Otago for how long it had taken him and bundles of putea to make it to this part of the world. This was not a mistake that he was going to make this time, and Dunedin was always going to be an early destination.

The party is proving a busy presence in government but its recent exile is still a painful memory and it is already looking well ahead.

Mr Patterson intends to spend much more time in Dunedin during this term than during his first in Parliament, and the setting up of some kind of local electorate office is a distinct possibility.

The party is also holding a public meeting in the city on April 27, and expect further gatherings of the party faithful to follow.

While the numbers of votes received by New Zealand First in the two Dunedin-centred seats in 2022 were modest, the party more than doubled its party vote in both Dunedin and Taieri — in which Mr Patterson won just over 7% for his party.

Living as it does on cresting the MMP threshold, maintaining that at worst and from NZ First’s perspective hopefully bettering that performance in 2026 is critical, especially given the traditionally poor polling of government support parties at subsequent elections.

But so far, so good for NZ First. Despite — or perhaps because of — Mr Peters never-ending stoush with the media the party has continued to poll above 5%, and the travails of rookie minister Casey Costello seem to have done little damage to its core support. It has plenty of wins it can claim from the first 100 days programme, and Mr Jones is on the road selling what New Zealand First can do for your province.

Mission secure 5% is not a future ambition: the programme is already well and truly up and running.

Map reading skills

New Zealand First has one MP from the deep South. Where was he on Thursday? Northland.

New Zealand First has one MP from Northland. Where was he on Thursday? The deep South.

Got it in writing

Taieri Green list MP Scott Willis, like many in these parts, would like Health Minister Shane Reti to confirm what investment, if any, has made by the new government in the new Dunedin hospital. As reported this week by the ODT, there will be a need for more money . . . which is at least the fourth time that the project’s budget has had to be increased. It will not be the end of the increases either.

"I am advised that $1.59 billion is appropriated for the New Dunedin hospital plus a tagged contingency for data and digital of $225 million," Dr Reti told Mr Willis in answer to a written question.

"I am working with Health New Zealand on how best to progress investment in the Dunedin hospital through the stages and major delivery milestones."

So, watch this space. For what it’s worth, Labour health spokeswoman Ayesha Verrall got roughly the same answer to roughly the same question.

Cyber attack

Invercargill National MP Penny Simmonds should have no illusion as to what people think of her performance as disability issues minister ... Opponents of changes to disability funding criteria have been bombarding her Facebook page with comments.

And, to be fair, she has actually been replying to some of them ... the same reply admittedly, which looks a bit odd if it is a long thread, but at least it is a reply.